The Art of Streamlining
Sean Punch continues his series about Dungeon Fantasy RPG development with a new article about the streamlining process. No shipping update at the moment, but we are hoping to have news very soon for international backers! For now, let's take a look behind the scenes at why we streamline, some of the challenges, and the rewards.
We frequently describe the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game as a “streamlined” version of GURPS, but what does that mean?
It certainly means reducing the work needed to create characters. Adventurers are still built on points, but character templates are standard, cutting down the number of upfront choices in order to prevent decision paralysis. Options on the templates are formatted as spacious lists rather than as dense paragraphs. Skills occupy a single, unified subsection – and this isn’t cluttered with cryptic notation like “(E) IQ -11.”
This simplification extends to racial templates. These don’t exist as separate traits, as in GURPS – they’re simply checklists for traits common to all members of a race. Races that offer little versatility or depend on complicated rules are absent.
Character-creation streamlining also extends to the game’s master lists of advantages, disadvantages, skills, and spells. These are shorter, making selection easier, reducing overlap, and removing rarely chosen options. For spells, this has the pleasant side effect of making wizardly prerequisite chains less convoluted.
Even heroes’ gear is simpler. Armor (all varieties – this is fantasy) is available in full suits to accelerate “shopping trips.” Weapon, armor, and shield tables are less cluttered, as the game doesn’t use certain stats (TL, LC, RoF for ranged weapons, DR and HP for shields).
Streamlining means reducing the GM’s workload as well. Before the game starts, this is the work of setting up a world; for example, the game lists “canonical” languages and provides a currency system. During play, it’s the work of making rules calls. We explain key adventuring tasks in terms of mechanics, relevant abilities, and modifiers, so there’s no fumbling for the right rule. The GM faces less information overload, too; for instance, traits possessed only by monsters needn’t be balanced for heroes, so they dispense with point costs and are simplified to just the details important in encounters.
For everybody, streamlining means reducing guesswork by offering more and better explanations. To name but a few examples, we make it clearer how surprise works, what happens to your gear if you’re set ablaze (say, by a dragon or fire magic), which spells count as “on,” and what spells affect what classes of monsters. We’ve rewritten many traits to be easier to use in play and/or less ambiguous. This last point is especially true of skills (which offer clear uses of significance to delvers) and spells (which are more consistent than in GURPS Magic – you’ll be glad to hear that “jet spells” are formally defined and we fixed Sunbolt).
Streamlining also means reducing the quantity of math. Encumbered movement, slam damage, falling damage, and jumping distance – among many other things – are easier to calculate or have tables for quick lookups. We outright cut rules where the math was headache-inducing (e.g., improving skills from defaults) or too fussy to be fun (such as tracking shield HP – although there’s a clever workaround for shields that catch fire!).
Streamlining means reducing the overall quantity of rules, too. We’ve simplified low-priority concerns for hack ‘n’ slash fantasy; e.g., understanding a language is a binary (yes/no) matter, the reaction table is less elaborate, and Fright Checks no longer involve a huge table . . . because in this genre, social interactions are secondary and heroes rarely feel fear. The lengthy, complicated enchantment system is gone; magic items exist, of course, but they’re just gear with effects and price tags (and the focus of the Dungeon Fantasy Magic Items supplement). Rules irrelevant to dungeon crawling are likewise absent – there are no tech levels, no firearms (simplifying the ranged combat system), no vehicles, no outer-space hazards (like vacuum and zero gravity), etc.
As an aside, rest assured that where we simplified or removed rules, a GURPS-savvy gamer could easily reverse the process. The games are compatible! However, some work may be needed to step down the detail in GURPS supplements before using them with the Dungeon Fantasy RPG, or to add detail to Dungeon Fantasy RPG content imported into GURPS.
Not all streamlining involves rules detail, though; additional “how to play” advice is another way to make a game run more smoothly. In the Dungeon Fantasy RPG, players get more input on picking abilities and gear (those with access to the Dungeon Fantasy GM Screen can look at Delvers to Go! for examples of ready-to-go heroes, and can use Character Creation Cheat Sheet to accelerate character design). The GM enjoys more information on designing adventures, balancing encounters, beefing up monsters, giving out treasure, awarding bonus character points, etc. There’s a short “Example of Play” to show how things work at the gaming table, and an entire ready-to-run adventure with its own advice on handling difficult situations.
And sometimes, streamlining is more about presentation than content. The changes to template layout are just one example. Related rules concepts are often collected in one place to cut back on cross-references; e.g., step distance and sprinting appear together because both depend on Move, the off-hand and Dual Weapon Attack rules share a box, and ditto the many rules for getting hurt while fighting unarmed. Spells are arranged alphabetically within each college so that finding them no longer demands searching or memorization. And handy game aids on the back cover of each Dungeon Fantasy RPG and Dungeon Fantasy GM Screen book further reduce page-flipping in play.
We think you’ll agree this makes for a faster, friendlier game!
– Sean Punch